Since 2009, Helium Arts has brought creative projects to children aged 0-3 and their parents in a variety of health settings, including health centres, child development clinics, early intervention centres and community centres. Helium is currently working in partnership with the Jack and Jill Foundation on a new early years project, developing multi-sensory performance experiences for children under three with complex needs.
Early Years Project with the Jack and Jill Foundation
Helium’s early years project with the Jack and Jill Foundation brings immersive, multi-sensory performance experiences to children aged 0-3 with complex needs and their families. The project supports families in absorbing creative and play skills to be used in everyday life in the home, providing parents with new ways of bonding with their very young child using sound, light, music, movement, smell and touch. In 2016, Helium completed a research and development phase during which the creative team – director Joanna Williams and performers Niamh Lawlor and Thomas Johnston – made a number of visits to four families in Kildare to test ideas, followed by a pilot ‘picnic’ performance for the families in their homes. Awarded the Allianz Community Art Prize at the 2016 Business to Arts Awards, the project is produced in collaboration with the nurses and families supported by the Jack and Jill Foundation.
‘The home visits were a wonderful, magical experience that helped to stimulate Aisling in a multi-sensory way. The team tailored an individual sequence of interactive experiences to Aisling’s unique needs and presented it at her own pace. Aisling really loved all of the music and singing, along with the colourful, fun, cleverly designed resources. We were delighted to be involved in this superb project that genuinely catered for Aisling’s unique needs.‘
– Aisling’s mum
In 2014, Helium launched an arts, health and early years research project – ‘Uncovering the Effect of the Performing Arts on Parent/Infant Relationships’ – in partnership with HSE Cork North, NUI Galway School of Psychology, NUI Galway Drama and Theatre Studies, and The Irish Association of Infant Mental Health. This research partnership aims to reveal whether there are connections between early experiences of the performing arts (dance/music/theatre/ clowning/puppetry etc.) and developing positive attachments and interactions between parents and babies.
Composer and musician George Higgs, with the support of Helium Arts and the Waterford Healing Arts Trust, brought Music for Small Ears to babies and their families in public health clinics in Waterford in 2016. Promoting the principles of positive infant mental health to families, the project developed from a pilot phase with the parent and baby group in Cara Phort Family Resource Centre, Mullingar in 2014. During the project, George behaved as a quasi-participant in the waiting areas during BCG and Developmental Clinics. Over a number of sessions, George designed a performance apparatus and composed a 15-minute interactive musical performance.
‘There was a calm waiting room for the parents and children and this overflowed into the clinic room.’ – Nurse
Helium delivered training workshops for Community Mothers in Longford and Westmeath in spring 2012. Participants learned new, accessible, creative and imaginative play techniques which they could apply to their home visits with parents and babies. As part of the training, Helium also facilitated Winter Workshops for mother and toddler groups in Mullingar and Athlone.
Infant Imaginings was Helium’s flagship early years project from 2009-2011, a performing arts project bringing creative play to toddlers 0-3 and their carers in local health centres. The project aimed to promote relaxation, communication and learning between babies, toddlers and their parents through music, performance, puppetry and the visual arts.
In 2011, a new phase of the project took place with the HSE Early Intervention Team’s parent and toddler group in Sligo. Inspired by these play sessions, puppeteer Helene Hugel and musician Sean Callagy staged The Rhyming Room at The Model, Sligo, an interactive performance for children under 3 years and their parents. Helene and Sean used music, play, and puppets to bring songs and nursery rhymes to life.